Water-damaged vehicles may be sold to unwary buyers
Vehicles in this active hurricane season can make their way across the country to Oregon and put up for sale as undamaged vehicles.
Sometimes buyers are aware a vehicle was damaged in some way, but they may be unaware the damage was caused by flooding. Often buyers discover the vehicle history when they receive a new title with a “flood damage” brand or “totaled” brand.
“Vehicles damaged by flooding can be cleaned up and appear undamaged,” DMV Administrator Tom McClellan said. “But water damage can lead to severe electrical and mechanical problems, mold growth and other problems that show up later. In many cases, these vehicles are branded as ‘totaled’ or ‘junk’ and cannot be titled or driven legally in Oregon.”
Only weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit the U.S. in October 2012, flood-damaged vehicles began to show up for sale across the nation. By July 2013, Oregon DMV had received 39 title applications for vehicles that received flood damage in Sandy.
“Sellers aware of water damage sometimes try to prey on consumers looking for a bargain,” McClellan said. “Any time a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is, particularly for automobiles.”
People shopping for used vehicles always need to be cautious. In addition to inspecting a vehicle thoroughly and asking a professional mechanic to inspect it, car buyers can use consumer protection tools and resources online.
Used car buyers have some tools available to check the history of a vehicle. DMV suggests that buyers check a car’s Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, with the online registry at the National Insurance Crime Bureau:
There are other online tools for buyers as well, including:
There is no guaranteed way to avoid buying a damaged car, yet Oregonians shopping for a used car can reduce their risks by taking a few precautions:
- Inspect the vehicle. Look for signs of water, mud, sand, corrosion or residue in carpet, upholstery, glove box, inside the dash if that’s easy to examine, inside tail light fixtures, etc.
- Hire a professional mechanic to inspect a vehicle before purchase.
- Ask the seller to show you the title or ownership document and check for brand notations such as “salvage” or “flooded.”
- Shop for a used vehicle among licensed auto dealers who are as eager to avoid damaged cars as consumers. Oregonians can find out whether a dealer is licensed by visiting the Business Section of www.OregonDMV.com.
Car buyers who discover that a seller did not disclose information about the condition of a vehicle, such as flood damage, may find it difficult to get their money refunded. They might need to hire a lawyer. Consumers also may download a fraud report form at the Oregon Department of Justice at www.doj.state.or.us or www.oregon.gov/DOJ.